When the World Changed

Editor’s note: This is the first article in a series that will run this week to commemorate the tenth anniversary of 9/11.


The world changed at 9:03 a.m. Eastern Standard Time. That’s when, on a Tuesday morning nearly a decade ago, United flight 175 flew into the north tower.

The radio in the car had told me of the first plane that impacted the south tower. We all thought it was some tragic navigational error, but there had been an attempted bombing, right? (When did that happen, again?)

Somebody managed to pull in a Spanish news UHF channel. Standing in that small conference room, facing the snowy image on the TV used for presentations, I remember somebody saying: “They’re going to have to bomb that with water from overhead.” She was talking about the billowing smoke coming from the towers, a fire that showed no signs of dying out or even lessening.

After the world changed, I drove home mid-morning from that nine-to-five. I worried about how I would account for those hours, but I had the presence of mind–barely–to realize I was anticipating a problem but didn’t actually care. Nobody cared about anything just then.

I haven’t subscribed to cable TV since the nineties, and I’m sadly out of touch with pop culture. My fianceé managed to convince me to hook the TV up and try to get some news channels.

I remember the busy signals. Before before driving home distractedly, I finally got some emails out to friends and family through the overcrowded T1 line at work: I’m okay.

I remember the paranoia.

In the days after, one particular friend, she said that she was afraid of AQ. We had been thinking perhaps we should wait to drive into Manhattan for our weekly songwriting workshop. Getting to Manhattan in those months was a harder trip it would in 2011, with all the tunnels to NJ closed. I replied to her email simply: “What’s ‘AQ’?” She sent back one line: “A L – Q U E D A”. As if spelling the name could bring her to their attention. Or maybe they had everybody’s email tapped.

I remember heroics: Flight 93 is still remembered as a group of people who, realizing they were all dead, fought their hijackers and died saving lives.

We all knew that this would become a country with restricted freedom of movement. Money would be spent, rights would be impinged. The strange would be once again feared. Bigotry would be excused, more than a little.

There’s an expectation that many publications will be writing about 9/11. So that we can be consistent in our grief, the Associated Press has helpfully drawn up a brief 9/11 style guide and timeline for the media.

In the week to come, Magnificent Nose will be running a series of articles about that day when the world changed.


Coming on Tuesday: “Ten Years Later: Still Telling Our Stories“, by Martha Turner Fein

Neil Fein is a freelance editor. On the side, he’s the guitarist in the band Baroque & Hungry and rides a mean bicycle. He also paints when the mood strikes him.

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